Fast food is winning appetites in Italy, confounding a life that often revolves around the three-hour lunch and pasta cooked to perfection.
The opening in early August of Italy's first drive-in version of the fast-food outlet removed the "last of the 'plastic curtains' between us and the U.S.A.," said the newspaper La Repubblica of Rome.
Now Italians can eat while driving, "just like Fonzie and the boys in 'American Graffiti,' " the paper added, referring to the film about America's love affair with convertibles and burger joints in the 1960s.
The Burghy's chain opened the drive-in next door to a supermarket on a highway to Switzerland and near the northern resort of Lake Maggiore.
Many trattorie have closed down and have been taken over by fast-food companies with such names as Boburger, Big Burg, Benny Burger and Quick.
Rome even has proclaimed a 17-year-old fast-food worker Miss Fast Food.
One Roman fast-food eatery is open from noon until 3 a.m., unheard of hours in Italy, where waiters often glare at customers who arrive for lunch at 2:45 p.m. and most restaurants serve their last meal before midnight.
The menu and format in Italian's fledgling fast-food industry are virtually identical to those in the United States, except that here people do not form lines but gather in a disordered mass at the counters.
In Rome's Big Burg, the big sellers are "specialburgs" and patatine --french fries. The only concession to Roman tastes is acqua gassata , sparkling mineral water.
"We are offering pasta, but Italians who come to us prefer hamburgers," said Giovanni Arduini, who runs four Wendy's outlets in Milan.
He said he opened his first one in that business-oriented city in June, 1983, about six months after Milan saw the inauguration of Italy's very first fast-food place, Burghy's.
Arduini says his Wendy's stores served more than 1 million meals in 1984, "99% to Italians."
Some people, Arduini said, object to the fast-food concept because "this is an American way of doing things and we Italians cannot accept that Americans show us how to eat."
Arduini claims Italians eat hamburgers "because they like them." But some think otherwise.
"It's an entertainment, a pause," said Alessandro Sarchione, 20, a soldier from Arezzo, who was with friends in Big Burg. "It's a case of fashion"--meaning, he explained, a place for young people to get together over a beer.
McDonald's, with outlets in 14 European countries, including tiny Andorra, says it will open its first place in Italy next spring.